CAFOD’s Monika Vrsanska writes:
It has been two years since Pakistan was devastated by floods – 18 million people were affected and 2.2 million hectares of crops were wiped out.
In many villages, you’d be forgiven for wondering why, two years after the floods, whole families can still be found living in tents. Huge amounts of funds were given by the international community, aid agencies, individual benefactors and governments across the world to help with the relief effort. The generosity shown to each other by those affected by the floods was also astonishing. However, it has become apparent that, due of the scale of the disaster, it is likely to take years for people to recover.
Immediately after the first images of the devastation appeared in 2010 on TV screens across Britain, a year when Britain was also badly hit by floods, the donations started to pour in. In total, the British public donated £71million to the Disasters Emergency Committee, of which CAFOD is a member, and the Catholic community donated over £3.2 million directly to CAFOD. Thanks to these donations, eight of our local partners working in Pakistan have been able to reach over 370,000 people affected by the floods.
But the challenge is not only to reach as many people as possible, it is also to provide a measured response based on people’s need. In the third year since the flood, this is something that we are aiming to gain a better understanding of – as the impact of our partners’ initial work becomes clearer.
For instance, we know that by May of this year, the 400 goats we distributed to women in the Punjab district had produced 170 kids. The majority of women plan to sell the kids at the end of Ramadan – when the demand is high and they are likely to get the best possible price. What will be interesting to see is how the women decide how to spend the money they earn. These women have so little and they are often faced with a difficult choice between immediate food needs, seeds for future food production, education for their children, health care and putting money aside for the future. Prioritising how to spend the family’s income is not an easy task when choosing between all those essentials.
Another lasting impact will come from a surprisingly low cost yet important aspect of our work – simply talking to the communities affected by the floods and sharing information. I would like to share with you an example of this from the Jacobabad district in Sindh Province that I have been greatly encouraged by. In this district’s community meetings, once the obligatory cups of freshly brewed tea had been passed around, a team from our sister agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS) held discussions with community members about their rights, and encouraged the men and women (meeting separately) to share with the group any concerns, beyond their immediate lack of resources, that they had.
As a result of this simple chat over a cup of tea, the community members learnt from the team that they have a right to public education within their own village – provided by the government. This would be a perfect solution for the education of girls, who are rarely supported by their families to attend school outside of their area due to local customs and valid child protection concerns. However, in order to apply for a government-run school, the community needed first to demonstrate their desire for and commitment to education by building a school.
The villagers got together and came up with a solution: a wealthier villager donated land, others gathered building materials such as bamboo poles and straw mats, and a makeshift building was erected. Two community members offered to teach and families contribute an affordable 50 Pakistani Rupees (35p) monthly to raise the funds for their salaries. One female villager said, “We are thankful and are more than happy as our girls are able to attend the school, which is walking distance from our homes”. CRS then helped the community to develop and submit an application to the government for a government-funded school.
This example shows how sometimes the simplest help – staff time and knowledge – acts as a catalyst to small yet lasting developmental change. This is why the ‘soft’ components of our work are also important. The last time I visited the area, people showed me with pride their newly restored water points. Next time I visit, as a result of the new school in the village, I hope a young girl may be able to read a poem to me.
Thank you all for your generous support which, as you read this, is bearing fruit in countries like Pakistan across the world.